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Global Summit on the Future of Mechanical Engineering

2008 April 28

© 2008, Libertiny Financial LLC


After spending three days at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. with world leaders in technology and engineering, I walked away with some high level insights into where the world is headed.  Here’s my take:


The event consisted of presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions all with the goal of bringing together global experts in technology in order to identify trends during the next 20 years (by the year 2028). 


To start us off, the Institute for Alternative Futures presented their research in order to introduce the topic.  Click HERE for the PDF file of their research


Our overarching goal was to:

1. Identify major technology trends during the next 20 years

2. Identify cultural and business ramifications and opportunities from these trends

3. Design a series of “Grand Challenges” for the global technology community to accomplish during the next 20 years in order to address the societal issues that we predicted.


The key things that struck me:

1. Population: 

The growth in population and the economies of Asia, India and Africa is astounding.  America is expected to have a bit of growth and Europe is actually expected to shrink in both areas.  The Middle East has so much money that they are now world leaders again (since the Ottoman Empire fell) in technology and major infrastructure programs.  Arguable, China has some large programs too, but with the exception of the Three Gorges Dam, the train line to Tibet and their space program, growth in truly society-changing technology is currently in the hands of the folks in the UAE.


2. Education: 
The U.S. undergraduate college education system (for technology focused degrees) was pretty well beaten up by everyone there, including the folks from academia.  Almost everyone suggested that today’s technology folks need a solid undergraduate degree in liberal arts.  Then a masters degree in engineering or science in order to be competitive today—let alone 20 years from now.


3. Life: 
Energy, food, and water were the major sources of focus.  The majority of folks at this meeting agreed that nuclear is the way to go and used (as usual) France as the successful example.  If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know that I’m in 100% agreement with them.  Food production, via large-scale vertical hydroponics farms, and clean water production via reverse osmosis of ocean water becomes a relatively simple solution when lot’s of clean, stable energy becomes available.  Oil, coal, biofuel, and natural gas don’t make the grade.  Solar is still very inefficient.  Wind and ocean wave actuated energy plants have a relatively small place in the energy system.  Pretty much a consensus that the energy density and safety of nuclear energy will not be surpassed during the next 20 years—barring some major physics breakthrough via the Large Hadron Collider that comes online this year at CERN on the boarder of Switzerland and France.


4. Government: 
What started out as hammering on the U.S. house and senate’s lack of technologically astute members turned into an interesting conversation lead by the gentleman from the Japanese Engineering Society.  He stated that the U.S. government’s problem--people with little or no technology knowledge making major technology policy decisions, and regularly screwing them up--has become a growing problem in Japan.  Apparently, the Japanese are following our government methods when it comes to staffing and electing officials, instead of the other way around.


5. The Game Changer: 
A fellow with experience in genetics threw every discussion above onto its head when he stated that he expects everyone in the room less than 60 years of age to live to be 120 years old.  Think of how everything above will change when people are living substantially longer than we expect.  For example, the U.S. government’s pyramid scheme of Social Security and Medicare has no chance of survival--granted, it has a very low chance of survival based on mortality rates today.  Also, how are we going to feed everyone?


6. The other Game Changer:  
Then the 900lbs gorilla walked in and said that with the present rate of progress in genetic engineering, he doesn’t see any reason why humans won’t live to be 1,000 years old before our self-imposed 20 year horizon.   Looks like we really will need to travel to other planets or endure the crushing weight of population explosion.



What does all of this mean? 

Although the scale of the problems is increasing non-linearly, they are the exact same problems that we face today.  But, just like it’s easier to pay of personal debt during the early years of incurring the debt, it’s easier to develop and implement solutions to the above problems today then it will be 20 years from now.  All it takes is the will of people throughout the world to do it.


Some suggestions:

1. Figure out how you can do your part to help find solutions to the problems listed above.  Invest in companies that are working on solutions.  Volunteer with organizations that are not only addressing the problems but can show measurable positive results.  Encourage your children to gain a technology related college education--we’re going to need all the help that we can get.

2. If you live in a country where you can vote in free elections, choose your government officials carefully and vet them well by asking them the hard questions.  They ought to have at least thought of a plan for how they will address these issues.




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